Saturday, 31 January 2009

A Tale of Two Away Days

You wait for months for an away day and two turn up at the same time! Today I attended a vision day at Christ the Sower School and an away day with St Fridewswide Water Eaton at Queensway Methodist Church. I achieved this miracle of bi-location by spending the first couple of hours with Watling Valley, the middle of the day with Water Eaton and the final couple of hours back in Watling Valley again. This proved to be a fairly good strategy since I got the general gist of the day in both places...

Both days followed a similar basic structure, although the details varied. St Frideswide started the day with a look at what they are doing at the moment and the way their activity could be mapped to the five marks of mission. Watling Valley briefly reviewed the SHIFT and B&DC years before Nick lead us through some Building Healthy Churches material on 'the Angel of the Church'.

Watling Valley then looked at the things they have been doing well and the things they feel called to do next. In the meantime, St Frideswide were thinking of things they could do in the coming year - if time and money were no object. I particularly enjoyed the idea of demolishing the church and replacing it with a large multi-story building encorporating car parks and a swimming pool encased in an Eden Project style dome...

Both groups finished with a list of posible actions to which stickers, or sliced post-its were attached to indicate priority.

I do enjoy these kind of days, partly because of the relationships which are built up when people spend time together. I'm also convinced that there is huge value in stopping for a bit of stratgeic thought and setting a few priorities.

And the conclussions?

St Frideswide's have a new list of actions to take on, but I would be really interested in following up some conversations about discipleship both within the church and in the local community. It's good to have a lot of people who do things, but it's also important to be intentional disciples who are continually learning and growing - even if the jobs don't get done. This could be a really valuable area to explore further.

Watling Valley seemed to finish their day with a general sense that they are heading in the right dirrection - with many possible areas for development, growth and improvement. Having been part of a number of such events in the Watling Valley over the years it's really good to hear that tone of firm but self-aware confidence. My only additional comment would be that each church or community may need different input or resourcing from the Partnership as a whole if it is to bed-in significant change, grow further or tackle tricky issues. There is an important cycle to be encouraged of local becoming partnership, which supporting the local, which resources the partnership, and so on...

I leave you with a wonderful piece of art produced by Mike Geaney. I don't know what it means:

Networks need to Twitter

I've been thinking a lot this week about networks and networking and how we make them work. While thinking about real flesh and blood people I've also been trying out Twitter which I've enjoyed as an added tool for social networking - although I still don't think there's much radically new about it...

As I think about the real world networks around me I note that their biggest failure is rarely in the communication of big news - it's the little nuggets that tend to get missed or forgotten - resulting in missed opportunities and petty rivalry: one church has an issue with discipleship and plans to run a course while another church has a course to offer but no-one turns up; one minister wants to make his church the local centre for healing or youth work - while his neighbour has a similar vision half a mile up the road...

I've come to the concussion that clergy need to have Twitter installed in their brains at ordination so that their dreams, plans and visions will be instantaneously shared with their colleagues. This would produce some wonderful synergy as resources were shared, dreams combined and support given.

It's the gossipy, inconsequential nature of Twitter or Facebook which gives them their power. As people share the little things that they happen to be thinking about, or interested in, all kinds of conversations and exchanges begin to take place. We had an away day in the Watling Valley today and I suspect it was the little conversations that will have the deepest consequences - rather than the big decisions - not that there were any. People came together and chatted. The results of this may never be known but they will be real...

The network intelligence of the church is not found in her brilliant strategists or brightest thinkers, it is found in her ability to dream as one body.

Those who seek to serve the church need to learn how to strengthen links which they will not control, join conversations in which they will not participate and create space which they will not fill. The devil may often be in the detail, but God is always found when human beings give him room to manoeuvre.

Being Human

There have been a few supernatural dramas launched in the past couple of months. Apparitions was a bit disappointing as a kind of Exorcist meets Torchwood kind of thing. It's uncritical and humourless take on catholic mythology didn't deliver the goods with the creativity of Dogma, although it did address the issue of evil with some intelligence and insight. ITV's Buffy clone Demons was, I'm afraid to say, unwatchable, so I can't really comment beyond episode two. It was a good try, but Van Helsing did the Van Helsing thing with a bit more style...

Blessings on the BBC however for having another go with Being Human. On first glance it sounds like a sitcom - a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf all share a flat - roll on the usual bad comedy script writers and you've got another star vehicle for Nicolas Lyndhurst... but no, Being Human is inteligent, dark, emotive and very human.

The opening episode included a nice piece on the nature of loss as newly ghosted Annie texts her now-ex-boyfriend and arranges for him to come round and fix the tap. The werefolf has some difficulties with his "time of the month" and the vampire faces the difficult choice between allowing someone to die or innitiating them into the curse. The chief vampire is a friendly policeman who spends his tiome covering things up. It's a bit silly by the nature of these things but it does work. I find myself looking forward to episode two... or is it already on iPlayer?

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Unemployment strikes...

There are some figures in circulation about unemployment in MK. According to the Citizen newspaper Jobcentre staff recorded 274, 432, 516 and 530 new benefit claims during the past four weeks - more than double the figures recorded last year.

The BBC have also reported on the gender divide: According to the TUC women are likely to be more affected by the recession than men because "many job losses were occurring in retail and hospitality, where more women than men work." They are also more likely to work in smaller workplaces which often go unnoticed by the media.

With many families dependent on two incomes to pay the mortage this could get very difficult for many couples...

Isla and I remember Milton Keynes in the early nineties when recession last struck this city. We measured the problem by the decline and disapearance of book shops and their slow reappearance. At the lowest point there were no book shops except WH Smiths - all the rest were closed. It took a long time for the good years to come again - although they did. Since then we have been conscious that another economic downturn could really hurt our community. It may be more fragile than it appears.

Last week I learnt a lot about the problems of the more wealthy in South Bucks. This week I am concerned that the economic downturn is clearly affecting people with less room to manouvere.

The end of the week...

One of the odd things about having Friday as your day off is that Thursday evening becomes Friday night. Work starts again on Saturday, but for the next twenty four hours I don't need to answer the phone, check my emails or worry about things I ought to be doing... These things will still be there at 7:00am on Saturday morning but I'm not going to let them worry me tomorrow...
So tonight I'm free. Time for sleep...

Today's programme:
Morning: Desk - finished half of the work I needed to finish this week...
Afternoon: Archdeaconry Pastoral Committee - no less that three schemes under consideration for MK...
Evening: Be Kind Rewind - better than I feared...

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


I'm still trying to work out whether Twitter is worthwhile or not. It's basically Facebook - with everything removed except the updates. The key seems to be to connect your various feeds and networks... I'm now getting updates from a few people who don't Facebook but I'm not sure I've discovered any other uses yet... and microblogging hardly seems worth while when you do a daily blog anyway...


Morning: Fresh Expressions MK Project Group Meeting - Mission Shaped Intro in the summer, publicity, church visits, Mission Shaped Ministry, Graham Cray...
Lunch: Peter Ballantine and a bowl of soup (didn't eat Peter - soup was great - Peter on good form for jokes...)
Afternoon: Ecumenical Oversight Group - lots of lovely ecumenical business - baptisms, fresh expressions and the year of St Paul...
Early Evening: Iona's birthday meal at Red Hot in MK - very full!
Evening: Holy Cross Church Council - good atmosphere - feeling hopeful - time for a mission audit a bit of constitution writing and some building healthy churches...
Night: Looking at the jobs I should have done today - several new tasks added - the sun'll come up tomorrow...

To Network or to Node?

There's a lot of talk about networking these days. In fresh expressions and emerging church circles it's pretty much an assumption that it's what we do. Networking can be contrasted to hierarchies or old fashioned parochialism and clearly reflects a postmodern, information age way of doing things, but...

Like many phrases it can be used but not really understood - or people mean different things when they say it. "Collaborative Ministry" is the one I often find myself worrying about. It's become such a common phrase and no minister would dream of saying that they didn't believe in it - particularly when applying for a job. On the other hand, they may actually mean, "I use other people to get jobs done" or "I sometimes ask people what they think". I suspect we have a long way to go before "working together" is truly embedded in the working practices of the UK church...

The same goes for networking. Most people use the term but in their heads they see their node (or immediate group of nodes) as being the centre of the network. Without realising it they create a form of flattened hierarchy - a pre-Copernican map of the universe in which they are back at the centre. They end up with a form of parochialism which focusses on a network within a network with boundaries between those who are in and those who are out...

I do it myself - we all do to some extent. In many ways it's the only way to cope with the complexities of our life as part of an ever shifting network of relationships. We all need our "privacy settings" or our approved group of "friends".

While this is all true, the call of Christ is to keep making links - to be open to what we can discover in the other. It's risky but ultimately life enriching...

We also need the humility to admit that we are not the centre of the universe - hard though it may be to admit it. There may be some form of divine centre (if you want to think of it that way) but if we assume that we live in a network - there is no centre - each node is equally valid and important.

We often say that we are networking when what we are really doing is "noding" - making links around us to build up the significance, status or power of ourself or our group. It's a form of hierarchical parochialism hidden in some trendy language. The real challenge in "networking" is to allow and encourage the life and links of the network to develop without our control, influence or even knowledge... but still give this value.

The skills required for modern networking are therefore passive as well as active and require restraint as well as extroversion. In practical terms I find myself pondering the question, how do we create and encourage networks of which we are not at the centre? This is a real question to consider in the MK church as we move from a structural to a relational model of ecumenism - and as we contemplate projects in areas like fresh expressions and local shared ministry... A new skill set and tool kit may be required...

The Chopping Board

And here's the chopping board... casualty of last nights party...

It was a wedding present - made (Isla tells me) from unbreakable wood. I wonder if we can take it back?

I won't say who dropped it but we now have two medium sized chopping boards - but pizzas may need to be handled differently...

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Party

We celebrated Iona's birthday this evening with a craft party courtesy of Annette. Jane came and helped too. It was a fun event in the end... the kids were fairly well behaved. Nothing got damaged, although when I came home from the ecumenical council I did find that the chopping board was in two pieces - what have they been up to?
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Long trip to Oxford....

I had to go to Oxford today for a Fresh Expressions meeting. It took two hours to get there which meant that I was forty-five minutes late! My frustration was somewhat worsened by my satnav which told me happily (at the start of the journey) that my ETA would be 9:40am - which was a little early for a 10:00am meeting but it seemed reasonable given the possibility of hold-ups near Oxford.

I got to Bicester and stopped - not quite dead but pretty much. For the next forty-five minutes I watched the back of the lorry in front as we edged painfully towards the M40 juction. My satnav occasionally deleted another 100 yards from the target distance and added another couple of minutes to the ETA. Meanwhile my petrol gage hovered just above empty - fun...

I got back home in less than an hour - in time to see Nigel and talk about his first sermon...

And that was the day...

Monday, 26 January 2009

Readability Tests

I've been working on a piece of writing today - one of my big jobs for the week. Because I'm fed up with Microsoft Word and its occasional glitches, crashes and downright bad behaviour I've been working with Google Documents. I've just done a word count and discovered not only that I have written 1465 words, but also that my document has a Flesch Reading Ease of 78.81 and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 5. (See Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test) This means that it's more readable than Reader's Digest and could be understood by someone in year 5. I think that's fine for something on all age worship... aren't stats wonderful!

Faith or World-view?

I've never been entirely comfortable with the word "faith" used as a way to describe individuals or groups. It implies to me a coherent system of belief - or an organised religious movement. It also implies active trust by those who belong to such systems or organisations - in something.

The problem is that the distinction between groups of people who belong to a "faith" and those who do not can be a divisive one. All people believe in something, but certain people are given greater (or lesser) respect because they belong to a "faith". This creates a value driven classification of people which I think is ultimately divisive. It also produces a strange sense of relativism - emphasised by Prince Charles' claim to be "defender of faith" - irrespective of whether any particular faith is true or not...

As an Anglican I am all too conscious that I don't belong to a coherent system of belief - or an organised religious movement. While Methodists have their committees, the URC have documents and the Catholics have papal authority, we Anglicans have been at our best when we've embraced variety and diversity - it's possible to be an Anglican and believe or do pretty much anything - within reason. We're neither coherent nor organised and our attempts to become so have usually gone badly...

The word belief is a little better. Even atheists have beliefs. In fact the truly committed atheist needs to have a great deal of belief since he or she needs to believe in the non-existence of something on the basis of very little evidence that this thing does not exist. We could therefore talk about beliefs and believers - although this may penalise agnostics and the apathetic who don't know what to believe in or can't be bothered... and atheists may not like being called believers...

I prefer the term world-view. We all have a way that we understand the universe and the way things work. We all have a sense of how we want things to be or a set of values that we feel are important. We might not act on the basis of our world-view but we do have one. This term doesn't imply anything coherent or organised. It isn't divisive or derisive. It would be possible to speak about "people of all world-views" - and really mean everyone.

Language is important and it actually affects the way we think. This is my suggestion for a piece of sensible language use that would genuinely promote equality and diversity - although that may be my world-view so don't feel you need to agree.

The impartial Beeb...

The BBC refused to air an appeal from the Disasters Emergency Committee for funds for those affected by the violence in Gaza. Apparently airing an appeal would have been tantamount to taking sides and would tarnish their reputation for impartiality...

There are, of course, various responses that could be made to this. The first is that the BBC are quite happy to air an appeal for refugees from the violence in the Congo - apparently it's OK to take sides in Africa!

The second is that the DEC are not asking aunty Beeb to take sides but to help raise money for ordinary people who's homes have been destroyed - who are hungry, homeless or seriously injured. The DEC are not wanting to buy guns for Palestinians (or Israeli's) - as far as I can tell...

Thirdly, I think this is a slap in the face for the 13 member agencies, which include: World Vision (UK) is based in MK and we have a number of their employees in our churches...

These are fairly mainstream development agencies who represent the concerns of ordinary British citizens (of all cultures and world views) who just want to help. It seems a bit harsh for the BBC to dismiss them as political pressure groups...

Of course this has become a rather silly story. Auntie Beeb refused to air the appeal and then proceeded to give the argument coverage in each news bulletin as the main story of the day. I don't think the DEC would have got as much coverage if they'd got what they asked for... If I was a conspiracy theorist I'd think they had a mole in the BBC... or does that sound too much like Spooks?

Sunday, 25 January 2009


A few years ago All Saints' was suffering from Baptism Fatigue. Every other service seemed to be a baptism with hundreds of guests (who didn't want to be there) crammed together with regular worshippers (who soon started becoming less regular). It was very hard to provide consistent worship, build a community, integrate newcomers - or provide the kind of welcome that baptism families deserved...

The DCC decided (going against the norm) that these baptisms were counter productive for the church's mission and that something would need to be done.

The proposed solution was to hold baptism services in the afternoon. This totally contradicted the standard advice that we are given but it proved to be a really productive idea. The plan was that each family would be welcomed at a Sunday morning service and then invited to an afternoon service with hymns, readings, an address and the support of ordinary church members.

We've been doing this for a while and it seems to have had some good results:

Families seem to get a better welcome than they did in the old system. We can greet them as a community in an ordinary high quality service where they can be given some attention and get to know us - and the kind of thing we do. Because they don't have hundreds of guests to worry about we can concentrate on the relationship between the church and the family - this is a win!

The afternoon services have become high quality events which usually get very positive feedback. We can speak to the larger groups of families and friends and attempt to meet their needs - hopefully giving them a positive impression of church - and the immediate families the "rite of passage" that they're looking for.

Morning services have been transformed and have helped us to build a more consistent and growing community. Sunday mornings at All Saints' are a much more positive experience without the constant conflict of interests between families, visitors, children and church members...

And Baptisms have become more meaningful. The Afternoon Baptisms are wonderful missional, spiritual and good-natured events - and morning baptisms (when they happen) are true All Saints' family events.

We had such a baptism this morning for Wilfred who's parents joined the church two years ago. They opted for a morning service and invited church members to the party afterwards. It was a great day and felt really significant. I suspect baptisms become more meaningful for church members when they don't see them every other week...

This has been a great journey and seems to have been the right thing to do. It does, however, have a cost - our baptism visitors have had to get quite efficient in their dealings with families - and we have an extra service to run on the occasional Sunday afternoon... Since everyone has benefited so much it would be great to keep this work going and provide the high quality welcome and events that families deserve but (and here's the plug) we could do with some more warm bodies in the baptism team... it's not a ministry that is always visible on a Sunday morning but it has been one of the most significant projects that ASL has taken on in recent years.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

It's official...

It's official, we're now in recession - although this doesn't actually change much. According to the official statistics the UK has been in "negative growth" since July 2008. The rules of the game state that two quarters of "negative growth" equals one recession so we're in...

Of course this doesn't mean that the sense of "phony war" has quite ended since official statistics don't really tell us what's going on in people's lives...

I've been asking around and reading documents and trying to get a sense of what is really happening. I've read some documents from local businesses and the council which focus (perhaps sensibly) on overall figures - and these figures don't seem too bad. There are jobs, and new houses are still being built - at least on the east of the city...

At the same time there are already a few signs that the recession (and I can now use the word) is already affecting real people. Most congregations in MK seem to have at least one person who has lost a job - and many people report changes in their work place - or to their household budgets... Many of these changes are relatively small but they are significant and they add up to a great deal of stress and worry even if they don't actually affect the big figures quoted by governments, councils and chambers of commerce. Suicides are up apparently and relationships are breaking down. Rumours of war are already producing casualties...

We're still a week or so away from the research day planned with Stephen Norrish, Tim Clapton and Paul Desborough but I am increasingly keen to know what we will discover. For those who don't know, we've set aside a day to talk to some of the people who might now what the likely effects of recession will be in MK so we can think about how churches might respond locally or collectively. I think it's urgent that we respond quickly because there is already quite a bit of hidden pain and we may be able to do a few small things that actually make a difference.

Some of the ideas that have already been suggested would be really easy to implement, e.g.:
  • A prayer to say during the course of the crisis
  • Discussion groups for those facing redundancy
  • Volunteering opportunities for those out of work
  • A leaflet with useful contact numbers
These are relatively simple ideas that we could put in place very quickly but there may be more... This is an important time for the church in MK to respond to some real needs and it's important to do so thoughtfully and appropriately. The recession is now official but there is almost certainly worse to come...

Thursday, 22 January 2009


Deanery Finance Group in the evening - signing off the 2008 share...

Wednesday, 21 January 2009


Morning: Planning wedding preparation with Nick, Mike and Liz - then a session with Liz talking about her first two weddings...
Afternoon: Local Shared Ministry Project Group
Evening: Deanery Synod - with presentation about MP Review and vote on Area Dean's post...

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


I spent the day with Paul at the Area Deans and Lay Chairs day in Aston Clinton. I managed to get home in time to let the plumber in and was therefore able to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama - at least up to the actual signing in when the plumber started making an ungodly noise with the kitchen tap. I'm told it was a good speech...

Monday, 19 January 2009


I went for a longer run this morning - as part of my preparation for the 1/2 marathon. I set out to do an eight mile run - but couldn't cope with hills after the first six... I did manage to get round and felt well and truly bushed...

Phone calls and emails in the morning. Lunch with Mary Cotes. Funeral in the afternoon.

In the evening I joined the St Mary's Worship leaders at St Mary's. This group has evolved very nicely from a group who stepped forward to lead worship two years ago. They're now taking responsibility for planning and working well together. It has been a joy to watch them develop. This evening we reviewed Christmas 2008 and started thinking about Christmas 2009. They decided to have a planning meeting for Christmas in June - not the 25th...

I have to say that I have found comments about the business of clergy particularly uncomfortable this year since I really wasn't that busy - at least with Christmas services. We have such a well developed team of lay leaders in all of our churches now that it is no longer a question of covering everything but finding space for the clergy to make a contribution... I think this is basically the way it should be but it feels odd when I get questions and comments about the hundreds of Christmas services that need to be covered.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

St Frideswide's

I went to St Frideswide's in Water Eaton this morning. This was this first time that I have been able to join them on a Sunday morning.

Peter Green presided and I preached.

The readings were Revelation 5:1-10 and John 1:43-end. These were great reading for thinking about the mission of Christ which was:

a) Truly local - since the incarnation implies a full immersion into the socio-economic and cultural identity of the community with whom God chooses to dwell.
b) Essential collaborative - since Jesus depends on other people both to share good news and act on his behalf.
c) Ultimately universal - since the kingdom of God stretches out through all times and places.

In other words, this was a good occasion to talk about Local Shared Ministry...

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Shenley Church End - A Zero Waste Place

I had a morning with Father Paul from the local Catholic Church today. I joined him for mass and then we met three people from MK Council who are involved in a six month project in Shenley Church End linked to waste and recycling.

Apparently SCE currently recycles 33% of its rubbish which is one percent better that the MK average. These three people have been given the job of increasing that to 50%.

See their web site: for more details and some useful links.

I'm not sure they knew what they were trying to achieve with the two of us as reps of the local church since their project is focussed on businesses and residents. Churches can be a bit business-like and involve a lot of residents - but are really communities so have a slightly different role...

We were at least able to talk about what we do and to encourage them in their project. They have been given the target of achieving 50% recycling by the end of March - which may be a little ambitious. Good luck to them and we wish them well.

On a related link it would be good to see some of our churches achieve Eco-Congregation status - and perhaps good to push the Generous campaign again...

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Return of CyberCell?

A few years ago (when Watling Valley was looking seriously at Cell Church) a few of us began to think about how we would do Cell/Church on-line. We actually got quite a long way into thinking about how this would work. We called the experiment CyberCell - and I bought the name. I also did a bit of web/logo design. CyberCell was ready to go - but my Team Leader responsibilities took over and the project languished...
At the same time the diocese was launching its Cutting Edge ministries - one of which was iChurch. A few of my friends suggested I apply for the iChurch job but it was half-time so I didn't. It has been interesting to watch iChurch evolve from something hugely ambitious into something remarkably similar to our early experiments with CyberCell. It's now a more realistic project - with its own strengths and weaknesses...

Time has now moved on. I've often wonderred whether CyberCell should be relaunched. It would certainly be a valuable fresh expression in a city with global commuters. I'm also interested in the growth of blogs and facebook as tools for church development. Peter Ballantine and Mindy Bell are doing an on-line lent course. The rest of the world seems to be catching up. Maybe this is the time to have another go...

I had a quick look at it this afternoon while I was waiting for the girls to come home. It took me about fifteen minutes to set up a page on Webjam using the rough format we worked out before - isn't web 2.0 woderful! I wonder...

I think I'm going to offer to do a lent course for interested people using the meditations and questions produced by the team. I wonder if anyone would be interested?

Older People

I started the morning with my first run in weeks - following all the family illnesses, bad weather and seasonal chaos. It did feel good to have a healthier start to the morning: a cup of rooibos and a banana for breakfast, a 40 minute run and a shower. I ran slowly to prevent myself falling on the ice - but this was probably a good way to ease into a new schedule. My plan is to start work on a steady programme based around the 1/2 marathon distance with three or four runs a week two rest days and a day when I do something else... One of my weekly runs needs to be a more substantial distance but I can usually squeeze something in on a Monday... wish me luck...

The rest of the morning was spent with some older people. I had hoped to see Ron Cramp but only managed to drop a card through his door. I did manage to see Audrey which was nice. I also spent some time in Kilkenny House where we discussed some plans for the future...

Building on some past successes, Linda wants to launch WOW - Worship on Wednesday - with some hymns and an activity - probably an all age "talk" provided by me - followed by Coffee and Chat. This is a fairly good format but does take a bit of preparation. I also think I may need some new speakers...

I was also introduced to yet another new lady who wants to go to church but needs a lift. I'll have a go, but I've never got very far in the past. It's hard to find volunteers...

Work with older people is enormously rewarding and great fun but often low on our priority list at a time when children's work is often seen as our main mission focus. There's actually a great deal you can do and a huge range of opportunities. The great challenge is to see discipleship as a calling for people of all ages. It's important that our older people are seen as the church of today - not the church of yesterday!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


Team Meeting.
Ministers West.
Funeral Visit.
Desk a bit more clear.
Simple day - time spent.

Monday, 12 January 2009

New Logos for Woughton

I've had a busy morning at the desk, dealing with emails and phone calls. The boiler man has been round for the annual service which went fine. I asked him about the effect of the recession on their business and he said that it's the plumbing side which is most affected - apparently people aren't embarking on major plumbing projects...

I also re-did the Woughton Logos (by request) so that they can draw out individual churches from the main logo - enabling them to have unique documents (like membership forms) for each church which still reflect the overall theme...

Dawkins launches a revival!

Richard Dawkins' bus campaign, There's probably no God: Now stop worrying and enjoy your life! went national this weekend to the delight of preachers everywhere. This is a rare gift from the atheist community that was so greatly appreciated that some Christians felt moved to throw in a few quid to support it. One commentator rejoiced that he had achieved something very un-english - mentioning God in public!

This Sunday there were undoubtedly sermons all over the UK that explored the issues raised by this wonderful slogan - I made use of it myself. All I can say here is probably? I'm not that worried - and it's hard to enjoy life if you face injustice, poverty, racism or violence... Do I need to say more?

A more important campaign has been going on this weekend focussed on the violence in Gaza. I do note however that UN declarations are being made at the same time as the Israeli offensive is drawing to a close. It would have been really nice if those with power had intervened before hundreds of children had died...

President Bush says it's their own fault because they were Hamas - which I don't quite buy. I hope Dawkins wouldn't recomend they stop worrying and enjoy their life... As a Christian my recomendation would be a bit more listening, some genuine justice, a commitment to human rights and real change - or is that too much to ask?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

La Befana in Milton Keynes

Our friends Dave and James visited us today for a late new year celebration. We went for a walk and climbed a tree - we chose one that had been in the old vicarage orchard so I felt justified.

Dave gave the girls presents from Italy (where his dad lives) including a very fine La Befana each. For those who don't know about this Italian tradition here's what Wikipedia says:

La Befana is a character in Italian folklore who delivers presents to children throughout Italy, in a similar way to Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus. The character may have originated in Rome, then spread as a tradition to the rest of Italy.

In popular folklore Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the 6th of January to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. The child's family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana.

She is usually portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children's houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy, gifts, or both.

Christian legend has it that La Befana was approached by the magi (the biblical three kings) a few days before Christ's birth. They asked for directions to where the baby Jesus was, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village with the most pleasant home. They invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the baby Jesus. She leaves all the good children toys and candy, while the bad children get coal or bags of ashes.

Another Christian legend takes a slightly darker tone as La Befana was an ordinary woman with a child whom she greatly loved. However, her child died, and her resulting grief maddened her. Upon hearing news of Jesus being born, she set out to see him, delusional that he was her son. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave La Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.

Also, popular tradition avers that if one sees La Befana one will receive a thump from her broomstick, as she doesn't wish to be seen. This aspect of the tradition may be designed to keep children in their beds while parents are distributing candy (or coal) and sweeping the floor on Epiphany Eve.

Many people believe that the name Befana is derived from the Italians' mispronunciation of the Greek word epifania or epiphaneia (Greek, επιφάνεια = appearance, surface, English: epiphany).

(Wikipedia 11/1/09)

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Team Social

We've been talking about a team social for a long time but it somehow hasn't happened. On Wednesday night at the team meeting we decided to go for it and decided that anyone who was free on Saturday night would head up to the Grebe in Great Holm where we recently ran a Carol Service. Nick assured us that we could get two meals for six pounds....

Some of us arrived at 5pm to discover that they had stopped serving food at 4. In fact the screen was being rolled down for a night of football...

There was a hasty re-plan and we ended up at the 2for1 on Furzton Lake. It was a great evening - even if the house rules required us to sit on two separate tables! Ordering was extremely complex and then we decided to confuse the staff by switching tables for pudding... All good fun and well worth doing. We ought to do it again some time.

From the bunker...

On Thursday I was told that the Church of England's "Emergency Prayers Unit" had produced some prayers for the recession. I love the image of an "emergency prayers unit" and imagine it as a mix between Blackadder goes Forth and Father Ted. Unfoprtunately I haven't been able to find evidence that such a unit actually exists, but it's a nice image.

For those who are interested, here are the prayers:

Prayer on being made redundant

‘Redundant’ – the word says it all -
without purpose,
surplus to requirements.’

Thank you, Heavenly Father, that in the middle of
the sadness,
the anger,
the uncertainty,
the pain,

I can talk to you.

Hear me as I cry out in confusion,
help me to think clearly,
and calm my soul.

As life carries on,
may I know your presence with me
each and every day.

And as I look to the future,
help me to look for fresh opportunities, for new directions.
Guide me by your Spirit,
and show me your path,
through Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.  Amen.


Prayer for those remaining in the workplace

Life has changed:
colleagues have gone – redundant, out of work.

Suddenly, what seemed so secure is now so very fragile.

It’s hard to know what I feel:
sadness, certainly,
guilt, almost, at still having a job to go to,
and fear of the future:
who will be next?
how will I cope with the increased pressure of work?

Lord Jesus, in the midst of this uncertainty, help me to keep going:
to work to the best of my ability,
taking each day at a time,
and taking time each day to walk with you
for you are the way, the truth and the life.  Amen.

Personally, I think these aren't public prayers but guided meditations in the style of Michel Quoist. On the other hand if people find them helpful then great! Let me know if you do.

One person suggested this week that we need a prayer that we can all say on a regular basis during the course of the crisis. I haven't seen a prayer like this but if you have let me know. If there isn't anything available from the structures, perhaps we'll write one...

Facing the Downturn

(Article for this month's Voices magazine)

The Church is called to:

  • Proclaim the good news of the kingdom
  • Respond to human need by loving service
  • Seek to transform unjust structures of society

(From the Five Marks of Mission)

It would be hard to have missed the fact that the past year has not been a good one for the global economy. A 'credit crunch' has become a 'slowdown' and looks likely to become a recession. The value of our savings is going down, costs are rising and our debts are increasing. Long established companies have already gone to the wall and people are loosing their jobs. Woolworths has disappeared from CMK...

While all this has been going on, life for the churches has been continuing much as before.  Although we have our own long term worries about money and deployment, on the whole the problems of the wider economy haven't affected us much, yet...

I think there's a danger that churches will drift through the recession, or even provide a 'safe' space where these issues don't get mentioned - after all it can be a bit depressing to have too much gloomy talk about money...

On the other hand, we are called to proclaim Good News, respond with loving action and seek to transform the unjust structures of society. I therefore think we have a duty to think, act and speak out during the difficulties that the next few years may bring...

The response of the churches must be carefully considered and based on real facts. There's no point offering solutions to problems that don't exist. Before we do anything else we need to find out what it really going on and what problems the people of Milton Keynes are likely to face over the next few years. To help this happen, the Mission Partnership Exec has asked a small group to do a bit of research. They're going to speak to some of the experts and authorities in the city and think about the advice that we can give to churches: what's going on? What problems are people likely to face? What can churches do in their local area? What could we do together?

I know that this is an issue that is already affecting many of our church members and I would really appreciate any data or anecdotal information that you can give us at this point. It would really be useful for us to know what's really going on so that we can think seriously about what we could all do to help.

Many thanks - Tim Norwood

Friday, 9 January 2009


We went into Ikea to buy some cushions and came out with a sofa. To be fair it was in the bargain corner and cost £46. We'd looked at it before but failed to commit - it seemed like a great deal to replace the battered old sofa we've had since 1993 - what are a few foot marks between friends?...

Isla came home and immediately made new cushion covers using some work she'd done years ago... and bingo we have a new sofa.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Back to Coventry

This has been a week dominated by Coventry - of all places!
On Saturday we went to Coventry for a jolly and visited the Cathedral.
Yesterday I worked with a Canon of Coventry Cathedral in an interview at Oakhill.
Today I visited Church House Coventry for a meeting...
Is God trying to tell me something? Should I be sent to Coventry more often? Should I be sending other people to Coventry? Any candidates?

Church House in Coventry is a wonderfully strange place. Part of it is an old town house and the rest is a huge modern building at the bottom of a steep garden. The main entrance feels like the back of an office where they keep the bins... Having said that, it's a lovely building and the people inside were very friendly.

The occasion was a Standing Committee meeting for the Local Ministry Consultation. We reviewed the feedback forms from the November conference and started planning the next one - a mix of principles and practice may be on the agenda... We also did some thinking about networking and the website. All in all a good and positive meeting.

I feel I need to drop in a quick note about my journey. When I told the team I was off to Coventry today there was some concern about my sanity - given the recent problems on the west coast line. According to the BBC however all would be fine - although they didn't predict that when I got to Northampton the train would be stuck for half an hour waiting for a platform, then break down. We then spent an hour in another train waiting for it to leave before being rushed across to another platform where another train finally took us on our journey...

Having had such a complex journey up I was not hopeful about the journey home. Fortunately, however I hopped on a nice Virgin Pendolino which seemed to take me home in half an hour - whoosh! Well worth the extra pennies...

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


Morning: Desk work
Afternoon: Interviews at Oakhill STC
Evening: Team Meeting

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Gearing up for a Recession

This evening was one of those classic first-day-back-at-work days with activity throughout the day and multiple meetings in the evening... what fun...

This evening's meetings were both worth while. Mary Cotes skipped the Mission Partnership Exec and gave a presentation to the Watling Valley about the Mission Partnership review - which seemed to focus on vision and was well received.

Although I did pop into the second half of this meeting I decided to go to the Exec - largely because my name was on the agenda a few times... mostly for reports from project groups...

This meeting did give me the opportunity to raise an issue that I've been thinking about for a few weeks...

I've been pondering the credit crunch and the oncoming recession and wondering what we should do about it. It seems to me that it would be easy for churches in MK to drift through it as bystanders. On the other hand there are some real issues beginning to emerge and there may be some useful things that we could do to prepare or respond as the economic downturn begins to affect people around us.

What we're going to do next is arrange a day at the end of January when four or five of our specialists do a bit of information gathering and speak to some of the key experts and authorities in the city. This day will hopefully give us a chance to take a snapshot of the situation in the city and give us some indication of the potential needs. My hope is that we would then be able to advise the churches about what appropriate action they could take locally or collectively.

I'm mentioning this on the blog, partly to let people know what we're up to, but also to invite responses - and start the process of information gathering - so if you have any factual or anecdotal information about the effects of the downturn on Milton Keynes please drop me line.

Ministry Review

I had my first Ministry Review today - my first proper professional review since I was a curate. It was an interesting process which involved filling in a form and collecting statements from three colleagues/church members. It wasn't as scary as the questionnaires I had to do for DSL2 but it did provide an opportunity for a thorough reflection on my work in Watling Valley and MK.

The final stage of the process was a meeting today with Archdeacon Karen at which we discussed what I've been doing, what progress I have made, what priorities I should set for the coming year and any other comments that Karen wanted to make.

In many ways it was an affirming process, but also challenging since it required me to ask myself a number of pertinent questions in a fairly methodical way. At the end of the meeting supporting documents were shredded and a simple summary form was filled in - for future reference.

It was worth doing and I'm really glad that we've got a proper process of review under way. It will pay off in the long run. On the other hand, I do feel for the people who will have to set aside a huge amount of time to make it happen. This is actually a fairly costly exercise in terms of professional time and admin support so I hope some thought will be given into the long term implications.

Of course, this is part of an overall trend towards using ministry for nurture and support: bishops and archdeacons use their time to supervise and nurture clergy who in turn empower lay people - who attempt to nurture the faith of those around them. This is all good - but requires a different approach to ministry and the institutions that support it...

Sunday, 4 January 2009

My car has a computer!

On the way back home from Rozi and John's last night my car made a funny noise and the power died. Strangely enough it was still running - although it didn't seem keen on going more than 15 miles an hour. Slowly and steadily I limped home through the side roads of Shenley and Loughton and was pleased to make it home before it conked out altogether!

And so, today I called up the AA to see if they could do a bit of home start. I knew this would be a busy day for them with all those flat batteries, but they came surprisingly quickly - and so I found out what had really taken place...

Apparently there's a little motor attached to my accelerator pedal which controls the throttle. This needs to turn a certain number of times per second but on this occasion - probably because of the cold - it missed a beat. The car's computer spotted this and put the car on safe mode to ensure that I couldn't do any further damage to the car and also limited the power - allowing me to get home. The AA man merely had to connect his computer to the car, read off the data and reset the computer - and bingo all was well again!

I was a bit gob smacked that cars actually work like this! I had no idea! - spot the man who's never had a post 1996 car before.

On one level I actually feel a bit disempowered. Isla had suggested that I look at the car before calling and I did so. I'm no mechanic but I know what a fanbelt is. All this computer based stuff is totally beyond me - there's no way I could possibly fix a problem that's lost in the car's silicon circuitry. The days of tinkering with cars are gone it would seem...

On the other hand, there's something fascinating about the idea of a breakdown caused by dodgy data. In an information based age we're all prone to problems caused by bad information - either about ourselves or about the world around us. We need a system that we can plug into that will diagnose our problems and reveal the truth about our circumstances - followed by a reset and a new beginning. (Another free sermon for those who want to nick it...)

Saturday, 3 January 2009

It's a fair cop in Coventry

It's always good to have a new year adventure and this year we decided to take a trip to Coventry. Neither Isla nor the girls had been before so we it was about time they did. John and Rozi were also keen to go so we all popped on the train together...

I bought the tickets yesterday before the announcement on the news that the whole west coast rail line was in trouble because a light aircraft had hit power cable near Stafford. Having bought the tickets we had to go - although we had to risk a potential bus journey between Rugby and Coventry - after a change of trains in Northampton...

We didn't do too badly in the end. Izzy had bought her cards so we had a few games of Go Fish and Belgian. This made the time fly by - even when we found ourselves stuck in waiting rooms with a cup of tea. I think we only had a forty minute wait in Northapton on the way up and an hour long wait in Coventry on the way down... All in all it wasn't too bad - although it would have been nice if trains could have been announced on MK station - this would have saved a mad dash between platforms!

As for Coventry... was it a spiritual experience?

Well, we did see Lady Godiver's statue which commemorates an act which could either be seen as a bold act of self sacrificial non-violent action - or a moment of medieval naturism. We missed the clock and so didn't see Peeping Tom - although John gave us a good impression.

We walked through the old and new cathedrals which is always a powerful experience. I'm not sure what the girls made of it, but I'm sure I'll find out one day.

There's an exhibition about Anne Frank in the Cathedral at the moment which includes some videos and statements about racism. This exhibition includes a number of vidoes which are on continuous loop - providing a wonderfully evocative background murmour in the nave - like the ongoing mutter of monks in the scriptorium copying out books...

We had some mixed feelings about the Cathedral. It's certainly impressive and is probably one of the best examples of post-war archetecture you can name - making good use of concrete, steel and pebble dash. There are also many examples in the archetecture of outward looking thought - making connections with local industry, ecumenism and reconciliation...

On the negative side, we found little sign of current life. There were very few signs of diocesan life - and the references to local industry and reconcilliation were a few years old. We wonderred what was going on now. That's not to say that nothing is, but we couldn't find it in the Cathedral. More research may be needed here...

The highlight of the day came after the cathedral visit when we hit the pub for lunch. We found ourselves in a supporters pub on match day and enjoyted the chants of "Kiddiminster!" through our beer, burgers and onion rings. There were lots of police arround who seemed fairly friendly. It was interesting to watch them escourt the fans off to the ground - surounding them like a ring of lumiescent sheep dogs. Unfortunately there was a bit of a scuffle at this point and one fan was escourted off to the vans - presumably to spend the match in the local nick...

One last postscript: we managed to get home in time for Doctor Who Confidential and therefore heard the announcement that the next Doctor will be 26! - oh I'm feeling old...

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Record of Dates

Next Sunday
9:00am Holy Cross TMA
10:30am All Saints' Loughton

June 14th 2009
9:45am St Mary's Wavendon

June 21st 2009
8:00am St George's Wolverton
9:00am Holy Cross TMA
11:00am St Mary's Shenley

June 28th 2009
8:00am St George's Wolverton
Somewhere in Woughton Parish

July 5th 2009
8:00am St George's Wolverton
9:30am St George's Wolverton
11:00am Patronal Festival with Liz Baker at St Mary's

July 12th 2009
9:30am St Mary's Shenley
11:00am St Mary's Shenley

July 19th 2009
8:00am St George's Wolverton
11:00am All Saints' MK Village

July 26th 2009
8:00am St Mary's Bletchley
9:30am St Mary's Shenley
10:30am All Saints' Loughton

August 9th 2009
9:30am Christ the King, Kents Hill

August 16th 2009
10:30am All Saints' Loughton

August 23rd 2009
6:30pm All Saints' Loughton

September 6th 2009
9:30am St Frideside

September 13th 2009
Watling Valley

September 20th 2009
11:00am Downs Barn

September 27th 2009
Watling Valley

October 4th 2009
St James, New Bradwell

October 11th 2009
Watling Valley

October 18th 2009
8:00am St George's Wolverton
9:30am St George's Wolverton

November 1st 2009
10:00am St Andrew's Great Linford

November 8th 2009
Watling Valley

November 15th 2009

November 22nd 2009
Watling Valley

November 29th 2009
Advent Sunday
Morning Service at Whaddon Way Church, Bletchley
Evening Service at St Mary's SCE?

December 13th 2009
Watling Valley

December 20th 2009
9:00am St Lawrence Bradwell
10:30am St Lawrence Bradwell

December 27th 2009
Watling Valley